DR. JOSE ROMERO (file photo) Brian Chilson

JA person close to Health Department director Dr. Jose Romero tipped me earlier this week that a legislative movement was underway to get him replaced and now I have an indication from the governor who backs him, that something is afoot.

The specifics are elusive, though it would be easy to guess Dr. Romero’s continued endorsement of the wisdom of CDC guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic is at the root of it. The legislature — the Senate particularly — has opposed directives issued by the department under the governor’s authority. Lawmakers have now gleefully tossed masks and, though some are vaccine believers, others are working to prohibit vaccine mandates or too energetic efforts by employers to get them done.

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The Health Department also meets legislative pressure points at times as enforcers of rules governing abortion providers and as the repository of birth records, now a flashpoint in the war on transgender people.

A Health Department spokesman said she had no knowledge of any legislative tension. I asked a member of the state Board of Health, which before reorganization nominated the department director. Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe responded:

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I’ve heard rumblings too but I do not know the extent of the discontent. No member of the General Assembly has contacted me. I know of no definite plans to try to oust him. As far as I know, the Governor controls the Secretary of Health position.

That control was my understanding. I asked the governor’s spokesman, Katie Beck, about this. I also asked her if Dr. Romero had the full support of the governor.

Responses provided to her by the governor, first about appointment responsibility:

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“He is, but under the law my Secretary of Health must be confirmed by the Senate.  This is generally routine.  Today, Secretary Graves was approved without a hearing.”

Does he have the full support of the governor?

“He has my full support.  He is nationally recognized in the field of pediatrics and infectious diseases.  He is the perfect fit to guide the Department of Health during this pandemic.  He has been by my side for more than 9 months.”

That’s all I know. I also know that doctors who’ve worked with Dr. Romero uniformly respect him. None has a seat in the Arkansas Senate, however.

Here’s more on Dr. Romero, appointed director last year. From that bio:

He was Director of the Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital from 2008-2020. He is also a Professor of Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at UAMS and has board-certification in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Romero’s research interests include the molecular pathogenesis, epidemiology, and diagnosis of enteroviral infections, clinical and therapeutic aspects of enterovirus, herpes virus, cytomegalovirus, pediatric tuberculosis, and pneumococcal infections.

UPDATE: Michael Wickline of the Democrat-Gazette tweets that the Senate Rules Committee, which met today (without video coverage) has decided to have a hearing on Romero. FYI: the membership:

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Sen. Jimmy Hickey, President pro tem, confirms to me:

“The confirmations go before our Rules committee first and then are referred to the Senate for final confirmation. Mr Romero’s was not forwarded in the batch to the Senate. A request was made to hold and have another meeting in regards to that appointment.”

Write a senator if you are so inclined.

The Senate usurpation of the executive grows. They encourage greater appreciation of the governor.

UPDATE: A senator comments

 

Also, the Democrat-Gazette’s Michael Wickline was at the Rules Committee hearing. Surprise: Angry Sen. Trent Garner, the mask hater, and Sen. Jason Rapert, still beating the drum for discredited hydroxychloroquine, are leaders of this unprecedented assault on an executive appointee.

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